Hospital cuts u-turn welcomed

CAMPAIGNERS fighting cutbacks to hospital beds and services in west Suffolk spoke of their hopes for the future last night after health chiefs announced a dramatic U-turn.

CAMPAIGNERS fighting cutbacks to hospital beds and services in west Suffolk spoke of their hopes for the future last night after health chiefs announced a dramatic U-turn.

Bosses at the newly formed Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) said yesterday they were withdrawing plans to axe vital inpatient beds at Sudbury and Newmarket hospital and have called for a major “rethink” about services in west Suffolk.

But campaigners in both towns only gave a tentative welcome to the news - coming just seven months after the controversial cuts were unanimously agreed.

Michael Mandlestam, staunch Sudbury campaigner, said the PCT's future plans were unclear in a climate of multi-million pound debt.

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He said: “By withdrawing the proposals, the PCT has conceded that their original proposals were badly flawed and vindicated campaigners who fought them.

“It is obviously good news but I would still urge caution as we don't know whether any new proposals will necessarily be any better.”

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In April, the now-defunct Suffolk West Primary Care Trust unanimously agreed to axe all inpatient beds from Newmarket and Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital. The town's second hospital, St Leonard's, was also to be sold and closed.

This prompted a massive outcry in both communities and Sudbury pensioner Frances Jackson took the decision to judicial review while Suffolk's health scrutiny committee referred it to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

But yesterday's announcement has turned concern into short-term relief. West Suffolk MP Richard Spring, who is due to meet with Mrs Hewitt later this month, said: “I know hospital staff in Newmarket are absolutely thrilled.

“Given the history, we hardly dare to be optimistic but there are grounds for optimism. Now we can have a proper evaluation of health services.”

Newmarket mayor Warwick Hirst said: “The news is a cause for celebration. When it was first announced that the beds would be cut, we resisted, fought the changes and kept them still open.

“Now it appears they are saved and I know this will be massive boost to morale among the staff who are now less likely to leave.”

Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of Suffolk PCT, said: “The board has decided to withdraw the plans for service changes that were made by the previous Suffolk West PCT.

“This follows a review over the last month of the current services and discussions with local people, staff and community representatives.

“We are concerned that developments in west Suffolk are not going at the same pace as those in east Suffolk. The application for a judicial review into the decisions made by Suffolk West PCT and the referral by the Health Scrutiny Committee to the Secretary of State has put service improvements on hold in the west of the county.

“The future configuration of services in west Suffolk needs a rethink. In the New Year, we will meet with local partners and people with an interest in west Suffolk's health services, including the Health Scrutiny Committee. That will start a period of informal discussion to develop options for new services that may then need further consultation later in 2007.”

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